A word from our Head of College, Professor Federico Freschi

Celebrating Dunedin School of Arts 150th Anniversary in 2020


Our sesquicentennial is a pinnacle moment in history.

A time to stop and reflect, to celebrate and to look to the future.

From the Dunedin School of Arts’ (DSA) beginnings as a provincial art school, it has grown to become one of New Zealand’s most reputable providers of hands-on, quality tertiary education. It has long demonstrated its commitment to the notions of art, culture and wellbeing.

The school’s journey through history has ebbed and flowed with political and world events, but the trait that has ensured not only its survival but also its continued success is its adaptability. This is the reason why the school’s history is so interesting, the reason why it has retained its identity and its name for 150 years.

From the outset the DSA has been resilient and responsive. Just 22 years after Dunedin was founded, David Con Hutton arrived from Scotland with the express purpose of establishing the school. It opened its doors in 1870 with many high-profile lecturers, such as the Italian Girolamo Nerli, arriving from the United Kingdom and Europe. 

Both world wars significantly reduced student numbers, with the art school emerging from WW2 with only four fulltime staff and five senior students enrolled. Instead of floundering, the school took on a new direction and lease of life. Part-time classes were split into three different areas – fine arts, home arts and commercial art – a move that breathed life back into the school’s attendance record.

Following national policy created by a former head of the DSA, the school became a major driver of arts education and Māori involvement in New Zealand primary and secondary schools.

One of the most significant periods of transformation came in the sixties when the school embedded itself within the pedagogical principles of Otago Polytechnic. The move into the tertiary sector emboldened its role in understanding and interpreting the changing face of art throughout the 20th century.

Importantly the move also strengthened the already well-established vocational aspects of the school. Fine Arts Conservation was introduced in 1972, filling a niche in the New Zealand arts education environment and meeting substantial demand from art galleries throughout the country.

In 1977 the school’s new degree-equivalent Diploma in Fine Arts improved the standard of art education in New Zealand and addressed the national art teacher shortage.

The school went from strength to strength in the second half of the eighties. A Bachelor of Fine Arts degree was introduced with two new subjects, craft design and computer graphics. It is likely that the DSA was the first school in the Southern Hemisphere to include computer art as a subject.

The school can claim the first master’s degree accredited to Otago Polytechnic with the Master of Fine Arts programme in 1997.


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We must train people to be adaptable, to be entrepreneurial, to create their own work and to create work for others, then we are winning.

National thinking across the polytechnic sector is momentarily preoccupied with more traditional vocational outcomes. However, the space of vocational education is much broader, it is more interesting and more dynamic in the 21st century. Creativity, collaboration and critical thinking are the core transferrable skills that will sustain jobs in the future.

The DSA is well-positioned to contribute these essential skills for industry. This is reflected in Otago Polytechnic’s outlook, as the Business School has recently been brought into the same college as the Art School, joining Design and Architecture.

There are potentially very interesting synergies that can happen, business is ultimately about human interaction and art and design is fundamentally about human interaction, so it’s about how we find those common spaces of conversation.

Having arrived from overseas to the role in 2019, I am in a unique position to appreciate the very real influence the school has had on its community and how much DSA is a product of the cultural and political influences it exists within.

The Dunedin School of Art is our jewel. When we celebrate the DSA, we celebrate as a city, and we celebrate Dunedin.

Here’s to another 150 years!





Head of School

Bridie Lonie is Head of School at the Dunedin School of Art.

She is a graduate of the Department of History and Art History at the University of Otago and her thesis is entitled "Closer Relations, Art, Climate Change, Interdisciplinarity and the Anthropocene" (2018). She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from the University of Auckland and was a founding member of the Women's Gallery, Wellington 1980-84. She worked on the development group for Ara Toi Ōtepoti Our Creative Future, Dunedin's Arts and Culture Strategy 2015. She was President of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society 2013-14. She has published art writing in Art New Zealand and the New Zealand Listener and has written many catalogue essays.



Tena koutou katoa

I am the Interim head, Dunedin School of Art, here until December 2019. I have a background in abstract painting and feminist art, and moved to art history after a period of secondary school teaching. My interests lie in the extensions of art into wider societal concerns. My MA considered art therapy, while my recent PhD is entitled Closer Relations: Art, Climate Change, Interdisciplinarity and The Anthropocene (2018). Feel free to contact me with any enquiry you might have bridie.lonie@op.ac.nz

Bridie Lonie

FedericoFreschi 0012

Head of College

Professor Federico Freschi is Head of the College of Art, Design & Architecture.

He was the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He began his academic career as a lecturer in History of Design at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. In his PhD thesis, Federico considered the political iconography of South African public buildings in the 1930s in relation to the political tensions between nationalism and imperialism at the time. He has worked briefly as a researcher and consultant in human resources, and more recently as Executive Manager and Senior Curator. He is on the advisory committee of Forum Kunst und Markt (Technische Universität Berlin), and a member of the Committee on Design of the College Art Association (CAA) in the United States.


Photo attribution: CAROLINE DAVIES